Reporters and bloggers

A sample (semi)liveblog from the California Democratic Convention, where I was both a delegate and an accredited “Internet Journalist.” Full thread here:

The CA Dem Convention gave bloggers “Internet Media” badges. I got one in order to have access to the riser which had some power outlets, but it turned out the bloggers were also invited to the press conferences by the candidates.

The resulting interactions were amusingly weird. At one point, Bill Richardson, confused by the mix of questions, said “This is supposed to be a press conference, isn’t it? Are there any members of the press who haven’t gotten to ask a question?” He was reacting to the fact that many of the blogger questions simply didn’t sound as if “real” reporters could have asked them.

The stupid-and-annoying-question contest came out close to even, but I’d have to award the prize to the mainstream media.

I would have expected the bloggers to be more argumentative, but that wasn’t he case. What I found fascinating was the different styles of argumentativeness, with one blogger making a fairly long speech to Edwards about how much money hedge-fund managers make and then demanding whether he didn’t think we ought to have a special surtax on high incomes. No “real” reporter would do that. On the other hand, it seemed natural for reporters to challenge Bill Richardson on his assertion that he would pull all combat troops out of Iraq: What if the generals gave different advice? Did Richardson “accept” the “fact” that the result would be more sectarian violence?

Similarly, it seemed to be considered a legitimate “gotcha” for a reporter to ask Edwards how he thought his plans to increase income taxes on the over-$200k-a-year crowd would play out in the general election, as if there were any reason to think that would be unpoplar, and for another to ask Edwards why Republicans were beating Democrats in the current horserace polls, which they mostly aren’t. Both candidates were peppered with questions about political tactics: that is, invited to do something known to disgust the voters.

Neither Edwards nor Richardson got what I would consider an intelligent follow-up question on a policy proposal, such as “What would that cost?” or “How much good would that do?” or “What makes you think that would work?” or “What’s the biggest disadvantage of that idea?” or even “Why is that proposal better than Candidate Y’s proposal?”

One blogger who seemed to be about twenty hesitantly said that she hadn’t been at a press conference before and then asked Edwards what it would take to make a great leader. That seemed bizarrely naive, but Edwards handled it nicely, saying that great leader needed firm purposes and a willingness to tell the truth. Of course it was a mainstream reporter who asked whether Edwards, in light of his stance for more income equality, had anything more to say about his $400 haircut. (Edwards answered simply, “No.” That drew scattered applause, presumably from bloggers.)

Edwards was impressive in his capacity not to seem annoyed by dumb, argumentative, and hectoring questions. I suppose that’s part of the job description of a candidate. But why? I’d love to see one of the candidates just say, “That’s a dumb question. May I have a smart one?” Of course, that would be played as a “gaffe.”

As I say, between the amateur unseriousness of the blogger questions and the professional unseriousness of the real-reporter questions, I found the bloggers less offensive. If bloggers start to penetrate pressers (and learn how to shout loud enough to be recognized, or just loudly ask a question without being recognized) that might somewhat shift the process. It could hardly shift it for the worse.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: